The concept of gender equality and the attempts to abolish gender discrimination have become a significant issue in recent times. Voices calling for the need to achieve and implement those concepts have started to rise. Human rights and civil institutions have also been active to make amendments to achieve equality.
Syrian law contains many legal acts that need an effort to amend, both in the penal law as well as nationality law. It seems that the Personal Status Law is the most appropriate law for making amendments, especially as there have been discussions about the necessity of establishing a civil state and resorting to a positive law that endorses equality between genders regardless of religion, nationality and sect.
However, talking about women’s rights and attempts to achieve legal amendment in this regard is considered a form of sophistry in a society that is still dominated by the male mentality and refuses to recognize women as a complete being with rights and duties corresponding to citizenship and humanity.
The Personal Status Law is one of the most sensitive laws in Syrian judiciary and is surrounded by an aura that prevents legislators from even considering to amend it. This is because it is attached to the Islamic religion, which takes upon itself the responsibility of regulating individuals’ religious and worldly affairs.
When it comes to amend legal articles that relegate women, the society in Syria is divided into different segments with contrasting postures. Very small proportion represents the segment supporting the adoption of equality, while the largest segment tends to reject the amendments and calls for keeping the laws as they are.
The concept of patriarchal has the main blameworthiness and is the most influential reason in the structure of Arab societies. This results in this guardianship having full control over various fields of life and leaving a profound impact. The influence of this dominant male mentality appears at first glance in society, in addition to the smaller domains, as it is clearly observed in the first cell of society, the family, where there is a clear distinction between male and female in interacting, in privileges and the authority granted in the family.
Despite the alleged societal progress and the individual liberties that are clearly visible, all of this is just for show and does not provide the truth of what is really going on in the various details of social and legal life in which the gap between theoretical discourse and practical application is still existing.
The prevailing general view is that men are better than women in terms of managing life and family affairs. The man is the most capable of making decisions, rationalizing expenses and most successful in political activities to be a leader and manager.
The new patriarchal system does not only reveal patriarchal authoritarianism that controls public and private life and grants itself a superior position over the opposite sex but also reveals a deeper problem that Arab societies suffer from. This problem is duality in characterizing society in form and content, as these societies avoid embarrassing itself, not by putting forth new perspectives to really change the system, but rather it is content with pushing for a superficial change based on imparting unreal characteristics to a society that is still dependent on its structural form of the patriarchal system and rejecting real change. Thus, this establishes a hybrid and unclear form of the society features that are suffering from regression by all sides.
This problematic issue generally occurs when societies work for change in a way that contradicts the logical method, which is going up from the base towards the pyramid. it is also most likely that these societies do not adopt a clear change approach as much as they try to throw up smokescreens at forums to form an unreal image that suggests a change taking place despite having the same social constants.
Arab society confines the female’s role to a social model directed on marriage and childbearing, and at best working in simple jobs imposed by difficult social conditions that forced her to work abroad. This role might seem sustainable to some women, so they embrace it and acquiesce in their social status for decades, and then they may move on to criticizing women who try to break the mantle of women’s stereotypes.
Human rights organizations’ role in struggle to amend gender discrimination laws
In most of their articles, Arab personal status laws have in common the inequality between men and women and the bias in favor of man, as he is the head of the family and the guardian of honor and morals. This is evident in the various positive laws, from the Nationality Law to the Penal Code, and on top of all in the Personal Status Law.
Society often arouses public consciousness against any feminist movement demanding equality as social norms and traditions are the actual ruler in Arab societies, although the enactment of a positive law that adopt the principle of equality does not belittle the value of Sharia and religion in anything at all. Nevertheless, having many examples of Muslim countries that adopt non-religious laws in their administrative and civil dealings supports this point.
The organizations work takes on a more complex form, as a large group of women may oppose the amendments and refuse to achieve equality due to their belief that men deserve higher position, or because of the psychological and intellectual sediments of women, at least.
In the general social picture, women seem to be imbued with the values of Patriarchy, and sometimes even defend it or resort to favor and appreciate it. It seems that women do not have the courage to break society values, out of not antagonizing the society.
As the organizations try to work, they are confronted by two united blocs against amending the law, namely the bloc of the legal legislator which derives its values and materials from a dominant patriarchal thought, and a large segment of women who believe in the same thought, and therefore refuse to make any change.
The civil and religious position on the amendments
The entire society still looks at the idea of equality in rights and duties between the sexes as a clear infringement on men’s place. Religious jurists consider it to be a departure from the humans’ instinct that God created in them. They, of course, justify their thought with the usual and common defense, which is that God created the woman for procreation and reproduction, and that many physical and mental actions do not fit the nature of the soft, small-minded, winged woman who needs strength and manly authority in order to protect her, and thus having her submitted to men.
Therefore, there has been no change in the attitude of the social environment although there are very few who have continued to demand full equality and are still engaged in leading the struggle to its end.
The religions’ impact on the Patriarchy intrusion
Arab society has not achieved a complete transition from patriarchy which represents a continuous legacy that has moved to the modern system. The Arab society has remained stuck between a patriarchal system and a civil system, forming a hybrid system that did not abandon its patriarchal characteristics.
Perhaps the real problem of patriarchy does not lie in religion per se, but rather in insisting that religion must be the only source governing transactions, and assuming that any deviation from the religion’s provisions in personal status laws that regulate the family is a departure from religion.
Still, it needs to be said that religion may not bear the full responsibility for establishing the rules of patriarchy in the Arab society, however, it had the greatest impact on making these normative rules have full control over society in its various sectors and fields.
In order to remove the suspicion and abolish the connection between religion and patriarchy, it is necessary to establish a positive law corresponding to the requirements of the new era. In this law, personal status and family affairs are regulated civilly, while the matters of worship are left to be practiced by individuals according to what suits them, each according to his religion.